A lucrative site next to Hong Kong Disneyland will not be slated for immediate tourism development amid the industry’s coronavirus slump, but alternative uses may be considered, the government has said after killing an option for further expansion of the theme park.
But the 60-hectare plot near the attraction on Lantau Island could also not be used for residential purposes, as the site was zoned for future tourism, a government spokesman said in reply to the Post’s queries on Saturday.
The government listed out restrictions on the site after it announced last Wednesday its decision not to renew an option for the joint venture that owns the resort to buy the plot for potential expansion, sparking fierce discussions over the fate of the land.
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The spokesman said the administration took the current economic conditions and the worldwide tourism downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic into account, foreseeing it would take time before inbound tourism and the resort’s business fully recovered.
“The government currently has no plan to use the site for tourism-related development. Meanwhile, the government is open-minded as to the alternative uses of the site that are beneficial to the community as a whole,” he said.
“If necessary, the government will explore the possibility of relaxing the development restrictions under the deed of restrictive covenant with the Walt Disney Company.”
The deed ensures the park’s fairy-tale world remains visually distinct from its surroundings and that the landscape is aesthetically compatible with the attraction.
The spokesman said the agreement only allowed the land to be used for certain commercial, recreational, sports and cultural facilities, but not residential use.
Any buildings erected must be less than 20 metres (66 feet) tall and only low-intensity use is permitted under the existing land arrangements.
Despite the limitations, a range of facilities could still be built, including a park, an indoor aquarium, an arena, theatres, government offices, restaurants or an exhibition centre, to name a few.
While two government sources earlier told the Post the land would be used as a Covid-19 quarantine facility for the next few years, another insider said transitional housing for thousands of needy families could be a possibility afterwards, depending on whether the two sides could reach an agreement on altering the contract.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing expressed disappointment over the government’s latest stance but felt it was still open over the site’s future purpose.
“Initially it was planned for tourism development,” Yiu said. “So does it mean the government will give up on tourism development in North Lantau? I think the government should clarify this.”
He said the plot could be used for building a car racing venue and performance facilities.
Andrew Wan Siu-kin, a Democratic Party lawmaker, who has long advocated using the site for housing, felt the government did not know what it wanted, calling it a “failure”.
“The wording sounds a bit self-contradictory,” he said, referring to its rejection of using the land for homes but mentioning it could talk to Disney about the development restrictions if needed.
“Quarantine centres have already been built on the land … It has already broken the taboo. It can do it when it is willing to do so,” he said. “When the pandemic is over, then the space can be expanded for transitional housing.”
A temporary quarantine centre has been built there to relieve pressure on overcrowded hospitals. A four-hectare site has been running since July with 800 beds, with the number expected to rise to 3,500 by the end of this year.
Wan said in the long term, the plot could be merged with the urban planning of the neighbouring districts of Tung Chung and Sunny Bay.
Noting the government owned 53 per cent of joint venture Hongkong International Theme Parks Limited, he believed officials would be able to find a way to relax the restrictions.
“Don’t block the option of building housing first. It just depends on the density and height of the buildings. I think this can be discussed,” he said.
This article Vacant Disney site: immediate tourism and housing use ruled out by Hong Kong government first appeared on South China Morning Post